Firefighters in 50 to 70 pounds of gear will climb the equivalent of 110 floors in Dallas' Renaissance Tower to honor 343 of their brothers who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Firefighters from across Texas and from Arizona, Oklahoma and Louisiana will take part Sunday, each wearing a tag with the name and photo of a fallen firefighter.
"I am Lt. Anthony Jovic," said Chris Balough, 39, an Arlington firefighter and a climb coordinator. "He was 39, had two sons, 9 and 10 at the time, and a wife of 16 years. He was assigned to Ladder Company 34, Engine 279, in Brooklyn. He was in the south tower. The only thing recovered was his helmet shield."
Brian Oates, 25, a Fort Worth firefighter and EMT, said it's an honor to climb in the name of one of the 343.
"Lawrence Veling, 44, Engine 235 in Brooklyn," Oates said. "He had a wife and three kids, ages 2, 6 and 7."
As climbers finish, they will place their tags on an accountability board and ring a bell symbolizing that their firefighters have "made it to the top," said John Barrett, 30, a Plano firefighter who is coordinating the event.
The 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb aims to raise $125,000 for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Balough said.
In another fundraiser Sunday in Grapevine, about 3,000 airline-industry-related runners and walkers from around the globe are expected for the 30th World Airline Road Race. Called Running with the Big Dogs, the 5K and 10K races and a one-mile Remembrance Run and Dog Walk will benefit the 9-11 Memorial Foundation Texas and Search One Rescue Team, coordinator Lisa Stokdyk said.
The stair climb isn't a race. Instead, the 343 firefighters will climb the equivalent of the height of the twin towers.
Renaissance Tower is only 55 stories, Barrett said, and the top two floors are privately owned. So firefighters will climb from the second basement to the 53rd floor, ride down in a freight elevator, then repeat the climb.
"The event is choreographed so it will proceed the same way as events did on Sept. 11," Barrett said.
Climbers will pause at the precise time the south tower fell to activate distress alarms on their equipment for about 15 seconds, followed by a moment of silence. A Texas DPS trooper will sound taps before the climbing resumes. The ritual will be repeated, corresponding to the time of the north tower's collapse.
After that, it's all climbing. Some volunteers have trained for months, like Ken Kelly, 44, who will climb with two other Euless firefighters.
"The three of us have been married to StairMasters three days a week," he said. "We first tried to meet the goal of 110 floors. Then we worked on time, then started wearing the gear."
Steven Wheelock, 38, said he and 10 other Hurst firefighters expect a humbling experience.
They've been working up to the challenge on the stairs of the four-story fire training tower at Station 1.
"It's kind of a gut check for everyone," he said. "The biggest building in my city is seven stories, and this gives you a taste of the medicine that [New York firefighters] normally deal with."
Fellow Hurst firefighter B.J. Wending, 34, is motivated by memory.
"It was a tragic day in our lives, and this is one little way I can show respect for our brothers," he said. "It's going to be tough, no doubt about it."
The races in Grapevine will be substantially less tough but equally meaningful. The 9-11 Memorial Foundation is responsible for two monuments recognizing those who died that day.
In the Grapevine Station development, at Texas Trail and Northwest Highway, is the 9/11 Flight Crew Memorial Plaza. Bronze statues represent two pilots, two flight attendants and a child. A bronze-and-granite memorial to the 343 New York firefighters is destined for Grapevine Fire Station No. 1 at Boyd Drive and Turner Road.
The other beneficiary, Search One Rescue Team, is a group of volunteers whose dogs help authorities find people in emergencies, member Miggy Scott said.
"One of our members was on Texas Task Force 1 and was involved with the search after the towers fell," Scott said. "We've been asked to do some demonstrations and tell visitors about our team."
Stokdyk said that those visitors are coming from all over the world.
"There are Australians, Canadians, Dutch, Malaysians, Japanese, Kiwis from New Zealand, Germans, British, Swedes and French," she said. "The French team has a gal who's handicapped, and they'll carry her the full race."
Such devotion to a cause is the hallmark of a theme like Running with the Big Dogs, Stokdyk said.
"It's the attitude that if you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch," she said. "It's a nod to United and American [airlines, whose planes were hijacked on 9-11] and the first responders. The big dogs are police and firefighters. When they're in the room, people look up to them."
Stokdyk said the one-mile race is open to folks who want to walk or run with their dogs.
The races are associated with daylong concerts and festivities at Meadowmere Park, 3000 Meadowmere Lane in Grapevine. For information and registration, see worldairlineroadrace.org.
The stair climb is not open to the public, but donations may be made at firehero.org/stairclimb.
Terry Evans, 817-390-7620